There is no other expression I can use to reflect my dismay at what I did today.
Got up about 9am, had breakfast, wandered aimlessly for a while before deciding to check out the town of Nadi for the afternoon.
Seeing the town was interesting. I think I expected more but Nadi has only one main street. There are a few little streets that run off it but not to anywhere much; just the equivalent of suburbs I would say.
So I walked up and back the main street, getting lured into shops occasionally and presented the "hard sell". I'm proud of myself for having successfully avoided purchasing anything; well, so far at least.
But on the way back, a little way down one of those side streets, an amiable looking chap made the usual intro chit-chat and invited me into his shop to learn all about the "real" Fiji.
Tentatively, I accepted, feeling uncertain when he turned to go down the alley. So I said "no, that's okay" and he came back, made more chit-chat and repeated the question and this time I followed; ever watchful though. Down the lane a bit, turn through a gate, up some stairs and along a balcony to, yes, a shop.
Okay, a little relieved, especially when I lay eyes on four or five other tourists. They are all sitting on grass mats about to start a kava ceremony and they invite me to participate. They say it is the Fijian way of welcoming people to their country and which they like to do because no-one else does it for the tourists who come to Fiji.
So, still a little suspicious, I am listening and chatting with Stanley, as he introduces himself, and sipping this brew called kava. Well, we all do, in turn, including the locals, so I figure it's okay.
Now at the point of no return (it is offensive to refuse the first offering), I participate as they tell of tradition and ceremony and explain words and customs. I have become more relaxed and as the ceremony ends, am invited into the shop to see what the village makes. Ahah! The hard sell. Only this time, I am not so successful and part with $50. The line that got me? "For the village." Damn! Oh well, now I have some trickets for gifts.
So that's it? Now I can get out of here? Not quite. Some more tourists arrive and Stanley invites me to sit in again and I accept.
Reflecting on this now, I think was afraid to offend Stanley due to some custom I was not aware of, and I should have declined and left.
Anyway, after the second ceremony, Stanley asks me if I drink beer to which I affirm and he invites me to have a beer with him; a beer the way Fijians drink and at the local. So I accept and find myself following Stanley down the main street to a pub called, I think, "Farmers Arms" (well, something like that anyway).
So I order two beers and get two "tallies", handing over almost $10. Hmmm ... starting to feel a little used here, but that's okay, because I'm getting to experience some of the culture, right? We adjourn to the pool room where we sit and chat and share a glass. More custom. "How Fijians drink beer", Stanley says. Okay, bring it on!
After a while, some of Stanley's friends turn up. Suddenly I am chatting with six or seven, mostly burly, men and buying another six tallies! Okay, that's cool, only $20. (Yeah, do the maths on that one!)
Now we move to a sort of bistro area behind the pub - fixed table and stools - and carry on there. A little while on, Stanley asks me if I smoke. "Not since I was a teenager", I respond and he asks if I want to try "Fijian" stuff.
Oh the voices! Even now, the voices of everyone I know saying it over and over! "What the bloody hell are you thinking!?" Even now, I do not know why I said "Sure, just a drag though."
So, I have a drag or two - actually, I think it was three. At this point, I was cool with everything. After five or ten minutes, I could feel the effects of the smoke, but I was still okay; I'm quite aware and still in control.
Suddenly, I am aware that the effect is getting deeper and deeper to a point where I recall thinking ...
followed by ...
"What the hell are you doing!?" (Actually, I think I used stronger words than that.)
Then it's ...
"I don't want to be here if I pass out. I have to leave. How do I leave? Can I leave? Shit! Get up, excuse yourself and walk out. That's all you have to do."
Stanley asks me a question.
"Oh yeah, Stanley asked me a question, better say something. What am I saying? I can't even understand my own words!"
Okay, get up I do and say I'm not well, walk through the pub and out onto the main street.
"Shit! Where are the things I bought? Oh crap, I've left them behind. Okay, is it worth $50 to go back?"
Thinking ... thinking ... "Yes."
Back I head. Along the way I start feeling better, the effects subside a little, and by the time I get back, I think maybe I'm over-reacting, so I sit down again - hoping that noone has glimpsed that I'd actually left the pub.
No, sitting is no good. So I grab my bag, shake each man's hand and say "Vinaka - thankyou" (figure I should appear polite) and leave and start walking back to the hostel.
"Should I catch a taxi? No, walk it off."
So I walk the 10-minute drive back to the hostel where I decide it is safe to go to sleep and do so. That was 4pm and at 8:30pm, I am well enough to eat, so I have dinner and call it a night.
Reflecting on this the next morning, as I will probably do many times over the coming years, it probably was a completely innocent situation from Stanley's point of view. But the unanswered questions will always linger: "Was there more than grass in that cigarette?", "Was it just much stronger grass than I've ever had?", "Was I really in danger or was that, or a, drug making me paranoid?"
I don't think I have ever experienced panic like that single moment when it dawned on me where I was and what I was doing and what could have really been going on. Now that clarity has returned and logic prevails, I thank the universe, the Angels, God, that I am alive and well; and for the experience, though not one I care to repeat.
However, I am disappointed in myself for having accepted that cigarette - I am not usually that stupid. Prior to smoking it, I did not feel like I was any sort of danger. After accepting it, all sorts of paranoid thoughts flowed in. So now, I don't know whether it was real or imagined and I possibly cut short a good experience.
That old campaign "Say NO to drugs" is quite pertinent to me now. Nothing good came from that experience; except perhaps to serve as a wake-up call.